German is a complicated language but it has its uses, especially as a repository of useful words that don't exactly have a counterpart in English. Some of the words are just fun to say, like Weltanschauung. But one of my favorite words is Schadenfreude. A good working definition of schadenfreude is "joy at the misery of others." It's the very human feeling you get when someone who you find problematic is brought low. You tend to see a lot of schadenfreude among sports fans and political opponents. It is, as I said, very human. I think it's also very corrosive and it's something that I really try not to indulge in too much.
Today was a day where it would have been very easy to indulge in schadenfreude. I live in Minnesota but I grew up in Wisconsin. More to the point, I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a small city that is situated about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay. Like many Wisconsinites, I grew up as a fan of the Packers. It's not always easy being a Packer fan. I came of age in the 1970s, a dismal time for the Green and Gold. Lombardi was gone and the glory years had long since faded. The Packers of the 1970s were generally a fourth-rate operation; they were never the worst team in the league, but they weren't very good and autumn Sundays were usually a time of great ambivalence. It seemed like the Packers were constantly chasing the Vikings during that era. No matter what happened, the Vikings had the better players. The Vikings would find Chuck Foreman; the Packers would draft Barty Smith. The Vikings would get Sammie White; the Packers would get Kenny Payne. It didn't seem to matter how hard the Packers tried in that era; they just didn't get it done.
It hasn't been that way for a long time now, mostly because fate finally smiled on the Packers in the form of Ol' Number 4. For the last 16 seasons, the Packers have been generally successful and always entertaining. Even when Brett Favre was being horrifically stupid, the games were fun to watch. And generally during this era, the Vikings have been the most consistent nemesis the Packers have had. Some amazingly talented and entertaining football players have worn purple - Cris Carter, Randy Moss, John Randle, Robert Smith, Daunte Culpepper and many others have been worthy opponents. I have lived in Minnesota throughout the Favre era and it's been a fascinating experience to watch the often kaleidoscopic reactions of Minnesotans to Favre and the Packers. My heroes are the team they love to hate around here and the rivalry between the teams has been close, hard-fought and passionate. It's really been a lot of fun.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but yesterday the Packers essentially beat the Vikings like a rented mule. Watching my boys play at a high level was hugely entertaining. I always enjoy seeing Favre operate, especially at the high level he's been playing at this season. But the results weren't really as enjoyable as they should have been. The Vikings, worthy opponents that they have always been, were terrible. Their one source of hope, the hugely talented rookie running back Adrian Peterson, went down in a heap and is now out for at least one game, maybe more. And my fellow Minnesotans, who love their Vikings more than any other team, were simply down all day today. I wore my Packers jacket and heard a few rueful comments, but there wasn't the usual vinegar that I get when I go strolling around in it.
There's great joy in watching your team win. But I don't really get much enjoyment out of watching the opponents' fans suffer. In the 15 years I've lived here, the local sports scene has never been worse. And that's too bad, because sports are part of what makes life fun. Don't get me wrong - I hope the Packers keep beating the Vikings every time. But I also hope the Vikings don't end up 3-13. In the end, there isn't any real joy in the misery of others.